|Rep. Kevin McGee (R) supported|
a school prayer bill because, he
said, "We all need to pray."
"An act to enact the 'Mississippi Religious Liberties Act of 2013'; to provide for voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints in public schools; to provide that public school districts shall allow religious expression in class assignments; to provide that public school districts shall provide students with the freedom to organize religious groups and activities; to provide that public school districts shall provide a limited public forum for student speakers at non-graduation and graduation events; to provide a model policy for voluntary religious expression in public schools; and for related purposes."First of all, while gays, lesbians, transgender people, black people, Hispanic people, Native Americans and women face actual and structural discrimination in Mississippi, evangelical Christians most certainly do not. It's quite disingenuous for these people, who often advocate for and uphold discrimination against real minority groups, to pretend that Christians – of all groups – need some sort of special protection against discrimination in Mississippi. Sorry, a 108 vote majority says you're not eligible for a slice of the victimhood pie.
Secondly, unless something has seriously changed since I graduated high school in 2008, most of those things are already recognized rights. Students can pray in schools. In fact, at my high school, See You At the Pole was a regularly held prayer event in which students held hands around the flagpole to pray together, and students were given a "moment of silence" (translation: "Moment to pray to Jesus Christ") every morning. Students aren't penalized for airing religious viewpoints in class. Au contraire, my high school biology teacher was shouted down by my classmates for even attempting to broach the topic of evolution (she ended up teaching it as if it didn't pertain at all to humans). Students can already organize prayer groups and religious clubs. In fact, I was part of one – First Priority – in my high school, and there was at least one more – Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I'm not sure what "related purposes" entails.
What you can't do – and many schools in Mississippi violate this anyway without the need of a law – is force others to participate in a certain religious practice. You can't allow students to walk around, vocally projected loud, boastful, disruptive prayers. You can't make students listen to a reading of the Bible (even though that was a daily part of my primary school education, along with collectively saying the blessing at lunch). You can't give students special privileges to excuse them from the same curriculum as everyone just because they feel scientific reality is at odds with their religion (even though students at my high school obviously got away with it when it came to evolution). You can't force students to attend religious functions (even though students at my high school were given no option but to attend several religion-centered, school-hosted speaking engagements).
My point is, there are many things public schools in Mississippi already do that they aren't supposed to do Constitutionally, but that doesn't mean the Mississippi House should recognize, as a matter of law, blatant Constitutional violations. Certainly, it doesn't need to pass a law purporting to "legalize" religious freedoms that public school students already enjoy without question thanks to the Constitution.
Let's remind ourselves of the text of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.Clearly, Mississippi Christians are not suffering the denial of the free exercise of their religious beliefs (although other religious groups probably are). But protecting Christians from that prohibition isn't the aim of the law, and it's not the goal of the lawmakers behind it. Rep. Kevin McGee (R-Brandon) explained the real motivation for the 'Mississippi Religious Liberties Act' when a nearly identical bill was introduced last year:
"We all need to pray," said Rep. Kevin McGee, R-Brandon. "Hopefully, if this bill passes, we will be able to do that in many different places."You see, that's the true intent behind the law: "We all need to pray." So even if a student is atheist, agnostic, Hindu, or Muslim – the Mississippi Republican House wants that student to pray, and that's why they've passed the Mississippi Religious
Sadly, Rep. Kevin McGee couldn't join his colleagues in voting for the Religious Liberties Act of 2013. He resigned in November in order to avoid over $400,000 in fines after he was charged with ethics violations. Clearly, we all need to pray for him.